I read Bridge to Terabithia for the 1977 club (but forgot about it when I was posting for the club). It has become a classic book for preteens since its publication, but it was written after my time as a child, so I never read it before.
Jess is a ten-year-old boy from a poor rural family in, perhaps, Virginia or Maryland. He comes from a family of sisters, and his father works all the time, so he often feels isolated. It is almost time for school to start, and he has been practicing running all summer so he can win the races at recess.
A family moves in nearby, and he hopes they have a boy his age, but all they have is a girl, Leslie. She seems to be disposed to be friendly, but he has no use for a girl.
Then, at the races, when is ready to show everyone how fast he is, someone beats him. It’s Leslie.
Leslie and Jess become friends and create an imaginary world for themselves in a shack across the creek. The world is called Terabithia, and you can only get to it by swinging on a rope across the creek.
This is the kind of children’s book that has more to offer children than adults. I couldn’t help comparing it to The Secret Garden, which does a wonderful job of describing the garden, making it seem like a wonderland. There is no such magical description in this novel, which is more matter-of-fact, so it’s hard to understand the fascination of the kids’ made-up world. However, the novel did get me to cry without being manipulative. It deals with death and handles the subject very well.
The Secret Garden
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Believe it or not, I’ve never read Charlotte’s Web before. I bought it for my niece’s birthday and read it quickly before I wrapped it. It’s a charming story with the bit of pathos that all children’s books should have.
Fern is devastated to learn that the runt from the latest litter of pigs is to be killed, so she begs her father to keep him. He allows her to hand-raise the piglet, and she names him Wilbur.
When Wilbur is a month old, he goes to live in a nearby farmer’s barn. After spending most of his time during the previous month playing with Fern, he is lonely, although Fern visits him often. No one in the barn seems interested in being his friend, though. After he asks each animal to be his friend, someone he has not even noticed says she will. She is Charlotte, a spider whose web is right in the doorway above his sty.
This is a delightful tale full of the smells and sights of rural life. Although the story starts with Fern, it is soon about how Charlotte and the barnyard animals try to figure a way to save Wilbur from being Christmas dinner. Although it doesn’t shy away from the basic truths of farm life, it is calm and gentle in tone and has lessons about friendship. It’s a wonderful book for reading to smaller children or one that slightly older children can read themselves. I think many modern children may envy the freedom eight-year-old Fern and her older brother Avery find in their rural life.
The Secret Garden
Anne of Green Gables